Note:This piece borrows heavily from "Library's Story: Striving for Excellence" by Father Jerome Joseph Day, O.S.B., published in Saint Anselm Magazine, Spring 1993.
The impressive collection of today's Geisel Library originated in a sack of books brought by Father Hugo Paff, O.S.B. from Saint Mary's Abbey in Newark, New Jersey. What has become the Geisel Library was simply "the library" in 1893 when Alumni Hall opened. The library was situated on the first floor, competing for space with administrative offices, classrooms, and living accommodations for both monks and students.
During the early years of the College, Benedictines served as librarians on an ad hoc basis, but by 1929, Saint Anselm had its first official librarian, Father Cuthbert Redmond, O.S.B. By 1930, the number of volumes had risen to 1,300 in a well-furnished reading room with a generous supply of current periodicals. Growth continued under Father Edwin Davitt, O.S.B., and his assistant, Father Jerome Dee, O.S.B., so that by 1937, Saint Anselm could boast 8,000 books in several mini-libraries, as well as the main repository, by this time located on the second floor.
After World War II, dramatic developments in the life of the library occurred. Despite the additional space in Alumni Hall created by the construction of Hilary Hall, a 1950 self-study revealed that the College library was inadequate. Although the collection had grown to 24,000 volumes, it was still too small to serve the students and compete with schools of comparable size.
The generous contribution of approximately $500,000 in stocks from Joseph Geisel, a prominent Manchester businessman and public official, addressed this need. At a Board of Trustees meeting on August 8, 1958, Geisel made the commitment to underwrite the cost of construction for a new College library. Work began in 1959, and the Geisel Library opened its doors in the fall of 1960. The 20,000 square-foot library featured reading rooms, study areas, a reference center, a music room, seating for 385 students, and space for 100,000 volumes.
In the years since Geisel Library was built, the facility has been expanded twice: once in 1973 and again in 1992. Each expansion added 20,000 square feet to the Library. Through the noteworthy stewardship of librarians Norma Creaghe (1971-1982), James Kennedy (1982-1990) and Joseph Constance (1990-present), the Geisel Library has grown not only in its physical stature, but in its commitment to providing the best available resources and a high level of service to the Saint Anselm community. This commitment continues to be fulfilled not only through the growth of the book collection (which recently topped 200,000), but also through the provision of electronic resources, most notably the Library's online catalog.
Faithful to its historic roots and poised to serve students into the next century, the Geisel Library has come a long way since Father Hugo stuffed a bag with books on his way to New England.
About Joseph H. Geisel: The Man behind the Library's Name
The College library bears the name of a man whose community service was exceeded only by his love of family and Church - and who concentrated both in his generosity to Saint Anselm. Joseph H. Geisel, who left his estate of $450,000 to the College at his death in 1964, capped his career with a commitment to underwrite construction of a new Saint Anselm library in memory of his parents. He and his wife, the former Bridget Donnelly of Manchester, had no children.
Born in Castalia, Ohio, February 14, 1871, Joseph was the eldest of nine children of Charles A. and Elizabeth (Deigham) Geisel. At the age of 7, Geisel moved with his family to Manchester. Whether peddling newspapers as a child, supporting his widowed mother, or fashioning a successful career as a businessman, political leader, public servant and philanthropist, Geisel moved with quiet grace, steady initiative and hard work. His laundry business on Hanover Street in Manchester prospered for 50 years, and he was involved in real estate, lumber, hotel operations and banking as well - with politics as his favorite hobby.
He was a delegate for Manchester in the New Hampshire General Court, first the Senate and then the House of Representatives. In one of his most famous political efforts, he was among the first in New Hampshire to urge Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to seek the U.S. presidency. Geisel was also president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, served on the municipal Board of Assessors and Board of Alderman, was postmaster for 13 years, and was past state chairman of New Hampshire Catholic Charities. In addition, he was a trustee of the Amoskeag Savings Bank, a director of Amoskeag Industries, a member of the Manchester Rotary and Elks clubs and was a fourth degree member of the Knights of Columbus.
When Manchester's economic mainstay, Amoskeag Manufacturing Co., collapsed in 1936, Geisel was one of nine local businessmen who financially supported its successor, Amoskeag Industries, an act which rescued hundreds of jobs.
In 1957, he accepted appointment on the first lay Board of Trustees at Saint Anselm, and in 1959, he was elected chairman. He served in that post until his death. The College had awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1954 and the first annual Alumni Award of Merit in 1960, at which time Geisel commented on his own philanthropy: "What God has given to me, I am returning to God."
In 1960, Pope John XXIII named him a Knight of Malta, and in 1962 a Knight of Saint Gregory, two of the most distinguished honors conferred upon Catholic laymen. Civic honors were numerous, too. He was named Citizen of the Year by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce in 1963, and he received many community tributes on his 90th birthday.
Apart from Mrs. Geisel, who died March 26, 1955, at age 81, Joe Geisel, born a Saint Valentine's Day baby, had set his heart on New Hampshire, Manchester, and, in particular, Saint Anselm College. Widely hailed for his wisdom, diligence, and humility, he died October 28, 1964, at the age of 93.